Electronic projections of Japanese religion

Michael Pye, University of Marburg, Germany

As one might expect, most Japanese religious organisations have hurried to establish their presence on the internet, and have become globally more visible than was previously the case. The internet has been creating its own market place for religion as for anything else. Some sites are straightforward presentations of well established religions, but others invite the surfer to participate in virtual rituals, such as praying for benefits at a virtual shrine. At the same time the analysis of religion in post-industrial societies has seen a significant shift because a non-formal or at most semi-formal field of "religiosity" has opened up between traditional religious institutions and what may be called "non-religion". The emergence of this "free space" was not originally dependent on the internet and has presented observers with a major task of analsysis in various cultures including Europe and Japan. This overall picture was already complicated by the continuing significance of "civil religion. Yet these elements have rarely been considered within a single integrated analysis. Now, in addition, the electronic factor needs to be taken into account, especially in cultures which are characterised by a fast-moving, innovatory style as in Japan.

Electronic representations of religion in Japan in some ways build on well established characteristics of Japanese cultural style in religious matters. The following are noteworthy: (a) readiness to provide popularised presentations (b) abbreviation of symbols and ritual, (c) remote access to sacred foci, (d) readiness to use technologised aids in religious contexts, and (e) individual control over much religious action. These will be briefly illustrated and discussed. In addition the attempt will be made to correlate the phenomenon of electronic presentations of Japanese religions with the wider theoretical picture. It is hypothesised that the middle ground of informal spiritualities will probably be strengthened even more in the foreseeable future, at the expense of institutional positions. On the other hand electronic presentations of religion present no threat to patterns of civil religion, whether in Japan or elsewhere. (April 2003)